Cover image for Sleep in peace tonight : a novel
Sleep in peace tonight : a novel
MacManus, James.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin's Press, 2014.
Physical Description:
360 pages ; 22 cm
"It's January 1941, and the Blitz is devastating England. Food supplies are low, Tube stations in London have become bomb shelters, and U-boats have hampered any hope of easy victory. Though the United States maintains its isolationist position, Churchill knows that England is finished without the aid of its powerful ally. Harry Hopkins, President Roosevelt's most trusted adviser, is sent to London as his emissary, and there he falls under the spell of Churchill's commanding rhetoric--and legendary drinking habits. As he experiences life in a country under attack, Hopkins questions the United States' silence in the war. But back home FDR is paranoid about the isolationist lobby, and even Hopkins is having trouble convincing him to support the war. As Hopkins grapples with his mission and personal loyalties, he also revels in secret clubs with newsman Edward R. Murrow and has an affair with his younger driver. Except Hopkins doesn't know that his driver is a British intelligence agent. She craves wartime action and will go to any length to prove she should be on the front line. This is London under fire, and it's only when the night descends and the bombs fall that people's inner darkness comes to light. In Sleep in Peace Tonight, a tale of courage, loyalty, and love, and the sacrifices one will make in the name of each, James MacManus brings to life not only Blitz-era London and the tortuous politics of the White House but also the poignant characters and personalities that shaped the course of world history"--
General Note:
Subtitle from cover.
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It's January 1941, and the Blitz is devastating England. Food supplies are low, Tube stations in London have become bomb shelters, and U-boats have hampered any hope of easy victory. Though the United States maintains its isolationist position, Churchill knows that England is finished without the aid of its powerful ally.

Harry Hopkins, President Roosevelt's most trusted adviser, is sent to London as his emissary, and there he falls under the spell of Churchill's commanding rhetoric---and legendary drinking habits. As he experiences life in a country under attack, Hopkins questions the United States' silence in the war. But back home FDR is paranoid about the isolationist lobby, and even Hopkins is having trouble convincing him to support the war.

As Hopkins grapples with his mission and personal loyalties, he also revels in secret clubs with newsman Edward R. Murrow and has an affair with his younger driver. Except Hopkins doesn't know that his driver is a British intelligence agent. She craves wartime action and will go to any lengths to prove she should be on the front line. This is London under fire, and it's only when the night descends and the bombs fall that people's inner darkness comes to light.

In Sleep in Peace Tonight , a tale of courage, loyalty, and love, and the sacrifices one will make in the name of each, James MacManus brings to life not only Blitz-era London and the tortuous politics of the White House but also the poignant characters and personalities that shaped the course of world history.

Author Notes

JAMES MACMANUS is the managing director of The Times Literary Supplement . He is the author of Ocean Devil , which was made into a film starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, The Language of the Sea , and Black Venus . He lives in London.

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

The appeal of a WWII love story, especially one set in London during the Blitz, is timeless. Inhibitions melt away when the next bomb may have your name on it even if that name happens to be Harry Hopkins, FDR's chain-smoking, cancer-riddled presidential advisor. In London to hammer out the details of the Lend-Lease program with Winston Churchill, Hopkins falls hard for his driver, Leonora Finch, much as Eisenhower himself softened under the charms of his driver, Kay Summersby. MacManus, managing director of the Times Literary Supplement, follows the ailing Hopkins from London to Washington, and back to London, as he attempts to strengthen the alliance between the bellicose Churchill and the recalcitrant Roosevelt, the latter ever-worried about offending the Charles Lindbergh-led isolationists. In the end, though, the novel is less about backroom politics than about the human relationships formed in those back rooms. Evoking Herman Wouk's pop-lit classic The Winds of War, this hypnotically entertaining tale gets the smoky, whiskey-fueled mood just right, all the while seamlessly melding the history and the star-crossed romance.--Ott, Bill Copyright 2014 Booklist



1 The seaplane came into view just as the winter sun had begun to settle into the English Channel. The plane turned into its final approach, the silver wings dipping to catch the last light of the day, before landing in a long plume of spray on the calm waters of the largest natural harbor in the British Isles. The plane taxied to the landing stage, sending a wave rippling to the farther shores of the harbor. Brendan Bracken checked his watch. It was 3:50 P.M. The plane was late. They had been due two hours ago. The pilot had kept radio silence through the four-hour flight from Lisbon, apart from one brief coded message to say the passenger was on board and en route. Bracken knew why they were late. With an important passenger on board the pilot had taken no chances. The four-engined aircraft had climbed to its ceiling height of fifteen thousand feet for the first leg of the journey along the Portuguese coast, and then dropped to sea level across the Bay of Biscay, before flying a dogleg into the Atlantic and then turning east into the English Channel. Portugal was neutral in name, but German agents had a free hand in Lisbon and would have noted the departure of an unscheduled British Overseas Airways flight with just one passenger on board. The Luftwaffe had already begun to move Junkers 88 fighters to airfields along the French Atlantic coast, but in that first month of 1941 the bases were not fully operational. And in any case, an unarmed, unescorted civilian airliner flying from a neutral country to England was supposed to be granted safe passage by all belligerent forces. Bracken looked at his watch again. It was 4:00 P.M. It was the word "supposed" that caused his anxiety. You could suppose nothing in the present war, except perhaps invasion and defeat. You could certainly suppose that. He looked down from the control tower to the landing jetty and saw the pilot and crew leave the aircraft. There was no sign of the passenger. A steward clad in the airline livery--blue blazer, white trousers, and gold buttons--descended from the aircraft and waved to the shore party. He looked worried. He formed his hands into a megaphone and shouted. The word "doctor" floated over the water and up to Bracken and his driver. "They seem to want a doctor, sir," said the driver. Bracken looked at the man. A pool driver from Number 10 Downing Street. Old enough to have fought in the last war but lucky enough to be a little too old for this one. "So I heard," he said. "Well, we don't have a doctor, do we? Come on. Let's see what the problem is." * * * He was huddled in a brown overcoat in a window seat at the back of the aircraft. His eyes were closed and his head rested against a pillow wedged between the seat and the porthole window. A gaunt, gray face, hollow cheeked, with wisps of hair straggling over a high brow. The steward stood in the aisle with a cup of steaming tea, but the man did not move. "Been like this since we left Lisbon," the steward explained. "Said he wanted to sleep. I don't know whether he's dead or alive." Bracken bent down, placed his hand on the man's shoulder, and shook him gently. "Mr. Hopkins, are you all right? You're in England. You've arrived." The eyes opened and even in the dim interior of the aircraft cabin Bracken could see that the briefing paper from the embassy in Washington had been right: Mr. Hopkins is physically unprepossessing. Tall, at six foot two, with thinning hair. Stomach surgery for cancer in 1936 has left him with severe digestive problems and underweight for his height. He looks older than his 50 years. His distinguishing feature is the eyes. They are dark gray, the color of slate, but with a sparkle that signals an inner vitality at odds with his general appearance. A recent profile in the Washington Post noted that if you watch his eyes, you will find the man. The gray eyes looked around the cabin and then fastened on Bracken. "England?" said the man. He shook himself, stretched, yawned, and peered out at the dusk gathering over the harbor. It is like watching a sleepy old cat come to life, thought Bracken. "Yes," he said. "Welcome." "Where in England?" "Poole, Dorset," he said. "If you're ready, we have to leave." "Dorset?" The man seemed to remember that this was his destination." Of course. Good. Help me up, will you?" * * * Harry Hopkins said nothing on the drive to the station. A porter saluted him as he boarded the train, followed by Bracken and two detectives who had been waiting on the train. Once installed in a corner of the compartment he immediately fell asleep again. It was not until an hour later as they passed through the county town of Winchester that he woke up. "Forgive me," said Hopkins. "I've been traveling for four days. Where are we?" "Hampshire, an hour from London. Would you care for a drink, perhaps something to eat?" The chef and waitress aboard the special train had already served Bracken and the detectives mushroom omelettes, a rare wartime treat. They were eager to prepare the fillet of beef for their distinguished American guest, a choice they had been assured he would appreciate. "Thank you," said Hopkins, "a little whisky will do me fine." "Scotch or bourbon, sir?" "Scotch will be fine, thanks." Delighted to be able to serve his guest something at last, the train steward appeared with a tray, a crystal tumbler, and a small decanter of whisky. He poured three fingers into the tumbler. "Lots of water, please; same again," said Hopkins. He pulled back the blackout blinds and looked into the darkness. "I am sorry we were late. I was looking forward to seeing the green fields of England." "The pilot came the long way round. It was safer," Bracken said. "I know; he told us. Are you drinking?" Bracken did not like whisky but nodded to the steward and accepted a glass. The two men clinked glasses. "Here's to England," said Hopkins. "And to the United States of America," said Bracken. * * * The first of the incendiaries landed close to the track as the train approached Clapham Junction station. They fell silently in clusters from the darkness before exploding in flaming fragments that briefly illuminated the back gardens and rooftops of South London. The carriage rocked in the blasts and the train surged forward. "Nothing to worry about," said Bracken. "We will be in Waterloo in five minutes." The incendiaries seemed to be targeting the main line into London from the west. Hopkins peered out through the window blinds at the searchlights probing the sky with pencils of light. A curtain of fire arose along the track. "They must have known I was coming," said Hopkins. Bracken smiled but did not laugh. He had been thinking exactly the same thing. What better way to impress President Franklin Roosevelt's special envoy to wartime London than a raid to demonstrate the firepower and supremacy of the Luftwaffe? * * * The White House had hardly made a secret of the mission. President Roosevelt had announced it to the press corps only four days before. "Mr. Hopkins will go as my personal representative for a very short trip--a couple of weeks--just to maintain, I suppose that is the word for it, personal relations between me and the British government." The journalists rose to their feet chorusing a single question: What exactly was the president's envoy going to do in London? The president laughed. "You can't get anything exciting out of this, boys. He's just going to say, 'How do you do,' to a lot of my friends." The press corps laughed and the president joined them. In London nobody laughed. When the prime minister heard that Harry Hopkins was coming to London on the president's orders, he said simply, "Who?" * * * As his train pulled into Waterloo, Hopkins looked out at a station in semidarkness lit only by feeble red lanterns placed along the edges of the platforms. Clouds of steam from engines waiting impatiently to leave drifted toward the arched glass roof. A few passengers were hurrying to board, but most seemed to have taken to the shelters in vaults beneath the tracks. Where wine merchants had once stored their finest vintages Londoners sheltered from the storm above. Not for them the safety of cellars deep in the countryside where the wine had been shipped on the outbreak of war. He stepped out onto the platform and stopped in shock, as if physically assaulted by the noise. Anti-aircraft gunfire along the Thames Embankment roared into the night, throwing time-fused shells high into the darkness, where they would explode in blazing fragments. The wail of distant sirens, the shriek of departing trains, and the shrill whistles from the guards created a demented symphony that echoed around the steel-and-glass structure of the station. The chargé d'affaires at the American embassy emerged from the gloom and introduced himself. Herschel Johnson, he said; they had to hurry. Hopkins shook hands with Bracken, shouted his thanks over the din, and allowed himself to be hurried to a waiting car. The darkened streets were empty as the car crossed Waterloo Bridge. Some incendiaries detonated early, falling like candles from the sky while a searchlight probed the darkness, briefly holding an aircraft in its glare, while others swung their beams to trap the plane in a cradle of light. For a moment the bomber was held like an insect trapped in a web before sliding away again into the safety of the dark. Fires burned along the river, mostly on the north bank, their glow illuminating the wedding-cake spires of Wren churches and the great dome of St. Paul's. The car raced along the Strand, through Trafalgar Square, with Admiral Nelson on his column just visible in the darkness, and down Pall Mall. "Welcome to London," said the chargé d'affaires as he was flung against the visitor by a fast turn onto St. James's Street. "Thanks," said Hopkins. "You've arrived on a good night." "Really?" "Now you will be able to tell them what it is really like here." "Them?" "Your friends in Washington." "I don't have many of those." Herschel Johnson knew Hopkins was right. An unelected White House crony who was very free with the public purse--that was the standard criticism of the weary figure slumped beside him in the car. Hopkins was not popular and, however much the press may have laughed at the president's little jokes about his mission, they damned what some called "the president's back door to war diplomacy" in the editorial columns the next morning. Johnson changed the subject. "You know you're expected at Number Ten tonight?" There was no reply. Hopkins was asleep. * * * At Claridge's Hotel a porter in a long green coat and top hat darted out from a heavily sandbagged entrance as the car drew up. He took Hopkins's bags without a word and led the way inside. Hopkins turned back to thank Herschel Johnson; the diplomat and his car had already vanished into the night. Hopkins stepped into the hotel and lit a cigarette. The noise of the air raid was suddenly muted, muffled by sandbags and thick drapes. Two large lamps placed at either end of a black marble counter threw a soft light over a red patterned Persian carpet that extended over the floor of the large foyer. Against a wood-paneled wall stood two high-backed armchairs with tasseled cushions. Paintings on the wall featured country gentlemen from centuries past with their horses and dogs. The receptionist, a middle-aged woman in a black suit and white blouse, looked up from behind the counter and pushed a form toward him. Hopkins felt he had somehow crossed the threshold from a world at war into the comfort and luxury of what looked like a grand English country house. "Welcome to London, Mr. Hopkins," said the receptionist. "Would you care to sign here?" "You know my name?" he said, looking at the form. "We were expecting you. We don't get many guests walking in on a night like this. Your room is on the first floor, but it's quite safe. Make sure you keep the blackout blinds drawn at night. You can have shared quarters in the basement if you prefer." "The first floor will be fine," he said. "Is the bar open?" The receptionist looked at him with a smile. "We don't close the bar these days. If the barman's not there, just leave a note with what you've taken and your room number. You are room seventeen, but take the stairs, please. We don't use the lift on these nights. The porter will help you." * * * The bar was crowded as Hopkins shouldered his way through. The voices around him were American, mostly London correspondents of major U.S. newspapers he guessed. He had been reading the back file of their reports in the brief time he had had to prepare for his trip, but he didn't feel like meeting anyone that night. He was exhausted after a journey that had begun at LaGuardia Airport in New York four days earlier. He needed a little more whisky and an early night. What he did not need was journalists buzzing around him with endless questions. He could not understand why the embassy had booked him at a hotel that had become the headquarters of the U.S. press corps. Hopkins turned to leave. He would have that drink in his room, just one drink, and then ... a hand on his shoulder stopped him. "Welcome to London. Want a drink?" Hopkins did not have to turn round to know who was talking. Like every radio listener in America, he would have known that voice anywhere. "Thanks, Ed," he said. There he was, smiling, with a hand held out in welcome: Ed Murrow, the CBS broadcaster whose nightly radio reports famously began with his signature opening line: "This ... is London." Murrow, who often seemed the lone voice challenging overwhelmingly isolationist opinion in America. Murrow, who had scarcely concealed his disdain for the former American ambassador in London, the pro-appeasement Joe Kennedy. Murrow, the one journalist Hopkins would stay awake all night for. Because Murrow was dangerous. He was influential. He could move opinion and, as Hopkins well knew, he needed to be watched. The president had repeatedly told American mothers in speech after speech that he was not going to send their sons into another foreign war. The White House had good reason for such caution. Despite the war reporting from London, U.S. public opinion was, if anything, hardening against giving aid to Britain, let alone joining the war against Germany. But Murrow was on a crusade to change White House policy and he didn't care who knew it. The two men found a table. Above the hubbub in the bar, the anti-aircraft guns in Hyde Park had started up again. "Is it always like this?" said Hopkins. "This is nothing," said Murrow. "Wait till the heavy bombers come over around midnight. The incendiaries light the way for them." "How do you stand it?" "This helps," said Murrow, raising a glass. The two men drank until the guns fell quiet and the all-clear sounded. Murrow spoke of his passion for the British cause and poured out his contempt for a do-nothing Congress in Washington and a largely ignorant and ill-informed public across the country. Hopkins held back, saying little while Murrow attempted to probe Roosevelt's real feelings about Churchill. "They didn't get on when they first met way back in the last war, did they?" said Murrow. "In fact, Roosevelt detested Churchill, right?" That was true enough, admitted Hopkins, and he pointed out that the memory of that meeting had not entirely faded from the president's mind. The idea of a global empire didn't sit very well with the president, or anyone else in Washington for that matter. "That is hardly the issue right now, is it?" snapped Murrow. "You don't understand, Ed," said Hopkins. "Isolationists like Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh make it the issue. Why should American kids die so that the British can impose a dictatorship on India, most of Africa, and vast swathes of Asia? That's what they say, and people listen." "This is not about the British Empire, for Chrissake, Harry; it's about the survival of everything we care for--freedom, democracy ... you know, all that stuff in our Constitution." He was angry now and Hopkins wasn't interested in a fight. He was tired and wanted to go to bed. But he also wanted to leave on the right side of the argument. "Ed, look, it's simple: the president was not elected for a third term in order to take the country to war. He has said that over and over." Murrow frowned and drank deeply. This was worse than he thought. Hopkins was a small-town kid who had risen to become one of the most powerful men in the White House. Hell, he actually lived in the place; Roosevelt had given him Lincoln's old study. And Hopkins had never been elected to public office in his life. No wonder people distrusted him so much. Hopkins had a reputation as a chain-smoking, hard-drinking wreck of a man who could still stay up all night and had an eye, and more, for a pretty face. Well, there's no harm in that, thought Murrow; but the man had views on the Empire and the British class system that might have been framed in Stalin's Moscow. What the hell was he doing in London? Why had Roosevelt sent him? And more important, what would he and Churchill make of each other? It would be a disaster. "All I can say," said Murrow wearily, "is that if you take that small-town view of the world into Number Ten tomorrow, you will have a very short meeting with Churchill." A waiter appeared with a note from Reception. There had been a call from the prime minister's office. Mr. Hopkins had been expected for a late supper. Was he intending to come? If so, a car would be sent to fetch him. * * * Winston Churchill was in his underground bunker beneath Downing Street when Brendan Bracken told him that the American envoy would prefer to meet in the morning. "He's exhausted and wants an early night," said Bracken. "I don't think it is wise to press him. I am not sure he is in quite the right frame of mind for a meeting with you just now." "And what do you mean by that?" said Churchill, who knew perfectly well what his private secretary meant. "I mean only that it is probably as well that Mr. Hopkins gets an early night. You have a lot to talk about." "Really? I am reliably informed that he is in the bar of Claridge's as we speak, consuming whisky." "I think you will agree, Prime Minister, that a little whisky helps a night's sleep, although in your case I believe brandy is the preferred potion." That's what Churchill liked about the man who was variously called his personal assistant or protégé but whose official title was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister. Bracken was clever, loyal, and a considerable wit. He was also a buccaneer, a man of uncertain background who had made his way from nowhere into the salons of power at Westminster. And he could talk back. That appealed to Churchill. "What did you find out on the train?" said the prime minister. "Very little; he slept most of the way. But you've read the briefs, haven't you? He's Roosevelt's Man Friday, disliked by everyone in Washington but adored by the president." "A similar position to your own, then?" said the prime minister. "Not at all," said Bracken, who knew Churchill liked to tease and had anticipated the comparison. "He's got some pretty strange views on welfare, empire, and all that. In fact, he used to call himself a socialist." "The only thing that matters is that he has the complete trust of the president. That is why I wanted to start on him tonight," said Churchill. "God knows, we have precious little time. Ask Sawyers to come in, will you?" Frank Sawyers was Churchill's butler, valet, and general factotum, who traveled with the prime minister everywhere. He was the weather vane by which the army chiefs, the wartime cabinet, and indeed Churchill's own family judged the prime minister's moods and especially his frequently evil temper. No one knew Sawyers's age, although he was well on in years, and no one knew where he came from, although the accent pointed to somewhere in the north. But these were unimportant details. Sawyers knew when to refill Churchill's glass, when to relight his cigar, when his favorite cat, Nelson, might suitably be placed on the prime minister's lap. Sawyers was able to suggest that a guest at the prime minister's table might not relish the third glass of vintage port that was being so generously offered quite as much as the prime minister himself. And in those dark days when defeat beckoned and the black dog mood descended like a shroud on Churchill, it was Sawyers who could gently lift the chin and stir the heart of his master. Bracken left the room and moments later Frank Sawyers entered. Without a word he took the prime minister's empty glass and refilled it with port. "Sawyers," said Churchill. "Yes, sir?" "This is a bugger." "Quite right, sir," said Sawyers. * * * In spite of the whisky and the long journey, Hopkins found sleep difficult that night. He had been shocked by the earsplitting cacophony of guns, bombs, and sirens during the raid. News reports from London all talked of civilian deaths, the destruction of homes, the plight of the homeless, food shortages, rationing, queues, but none mentioned the deafening nightly thunder of the Blitz. He wondered how anyone got any sleep. The next morning, as his car drove down Park Lane to 10 Downing Street, he realized that sleep was probably a dimly remembered luxury for most Londoners. Despite the cold, he wound the window down and caught the acrid smell of smoke and burning. He saw pale faces pinched with cold waiting patiently at bus stops, trying to get to work. People stamped their feet and rubbed gloved hands against the cold, craning around the queue hoping to see their bus. Others gave up the wait and trudged past still-burning buildings, heads down, hands clasping handbags or briefcases, all wondering on that freezing morning whether there would be transport home that night. They looked exhausted, hollowed out, half people. Red double-decker buses lumbered over still-smoldering rubble strewn across the roads, weaving past piles of shattered brick and occasional geysers of water as they went from bus stop to bus stop scooping up passengers from long, orderly queues. As they passed Hyde Park Hopkins saw the anti-aircraft crews cleaning and servicing the guns for the night ahead. Piles of expended shell cases were stacked neatly in brass pyramids under the plane trees. Elderly men and women walked dogs around the gun emplacements as if it were normal to find batteries of long-barreled 3.7-inch anti-aircraft guns in the middle of a city park. That's the point, Hopkins realized. This is normal. The Blitz had been going on for four months. Twenty-eight thousand people had been killed in London alone and forty thousand homes destroyed, leaving almost half a million people displaced. And yet here on the streets on a bitter January morning people were queuing for the bus and trudging to work over the debris from the latest raid. The chargé d'affaires had been right. No one in Washington had any idea of what was happening in London. Hopkins opened his briefcase and pulled out his letter of authorization from President Roosevelt: Reposing special faith and confidence in you, I am asking you to proceed at your earliest convenience to Great Britain, there to act as my personal representative. I am also asking you to convey a communication in this sense to His Majesty George VI. You will of course communicate to this government any matters which may come to your attention in the performance of your mission which you may feel will serve the best interests of the United States. With all best wishes for the success of your mission I am, Sincerely yours Franklin D. Roosevelt The president had announced Hopkins's mission at his morning press conference on January 5. The letter had been handed to him one hour later, and that evening he had left New York on the first of five flights, making his way to the Caribbean, Brazil, then across the South Atlantic to Gambia in West Africa, and north to Lisbon. The safest way to travel to Europe, it had taken four days with overnight stopovers. His mission was to meet and get to know a man whose ego was considerably greater than his talent, a man who seemed to believe that a nation of 40 million people could rule 400 million around the world, a man determined to drag America into a war. Churchill did not seem too bothered by the fact that the United States had lost more than 100,000 men in the Great War just twenty-three years previously. That war was supposed to end all wars. But here they were again, European nations slaughtering each other. Why not just leave them to it and do a deal with the victor? Hopkins knew how his hometown, Sioux City, Iowa, would answer that question. Most of its residents did not even know where Europe was. What mattered in Sioux City was the price of gasoline for the tractors and combine harvesters and the prospects for the corn harvest. The boys liked a few beers on Saturday nights and would try their luck with the girls in the back row of the cinemas. That was pretty much life in Sioux City. There was no memorial to the dead. Veterans who hobbled and limped around the streets were reminders enough of the madness that had seized the old countries of Europe only two decades earlier. People walked past them, heads down to avoid their angry eyes, closing their ears to the occasional muttered curse that followed them down the sidewalk. Sioux City knew all about the Great War, and no one wanted another one. * * * Hopkins got out of the car in Downing Street, straightened up, ran a hand over his hair, and looked around. The entrance was sandbagged, the windows were boarded up, and the house next door, Number 11, had suffered some damage to its frontage. The United Kingdom and British Empire had been run from this small three-story house in a London side street for two hundred years. Hopkins found it incredible. Brendan Bracken met Hopkins at the door. "It's not exactly the White House, is it?" he said, smiling. "Come in." Bracken led him to a small dining room in the basement where a table had been set for two. Family photographs in silver frames were arranged on side tables. Paintings on the wall depicted various well-whiskered gentlemen whom Hopkins judged to be former occupants of Number 10. It seemed a little early to eat, shortly before noon, but he told himself that nothing about his mission was going to surprise him. "Sherry?" said Bracken, pouring him a glass without waiting for an answer. Hopkins was sipping his sherry when a rotund, smiling red-faced gentleman with pinstripe trousers and a short black coat appeared and welcomed him to England. There was no mistaking the British prime minister. He looked exactly as he did in every photograph, perhaps slightly smaller and rounder than Hopkins had imagined, but his handshake was firm and his voice familiar from broadcasts. They sat down to a lunch of vegetable consommé, cold beef, green salad, cheese, and coffee. A light wine and port were served as if they were essential accompaniments to lunch, which was clearly the prime minister's view. Hopkins drank, taking the edge off his hangover. He was getting the impression that alcohol was an important wartime weapon for the British. * * * That night in his room at Claridge's, using hotel stationery, Hopkins wrote out his first report. Roosevelt had insisted that he avoid all but essential contact with the embassy and use only U.S. naval communication channels. This involved a courier to take dispatches to radio staff operating for the naval attaché housed separately from the embassy in Grosvenor Square. The dispatches were transmitted in code to U.S. naval headquarters in Washington and then to the White House. The president did not trust his own embassy after the disastrous tenure of ambassador Joe Kennedy. Nor, it seemed to Hopkins, did Roosevelt trust any branch of his armed services except for the navy, in which he had once held senior office. Above all, he did not trust the British. "They will all want to know what you have to say to me," he had told Hopkins. "So write out your reports yourself and send them via courier for my eyes only. They will be on my desk within a couple of hours of you sealing the envelope. It may seem a little drastic, but trust nobody, Harry. They will watch you, listen to you, and follow you--all of them, the Brits, Americans, Free French, German agents, the lot. Say nothing, but remember: I want to know everything." * * * Hopkins later heard that Roosevelt had laughed out loud when he read the report of that first meeting. After a few preliminary civilities, during which Churchill pressed Hopkins to have some jelly in aspic with his beef, the envoy had remarked that some people in Washington thought the British prime minister to be critical of the president and the overwhelmingly isolationist public opinion in the States. Churchill had risen from the table, his glowering countenance matching the glowing cigar in his hand, and launched into a bitter tirade against Joe Kennedy, whom he blamed for poisoning relations between London and Washington. "He, the American ambassador to the Court of St. James, has written us off. He told anyone in America who cared to listen--and unfortunately a great many people there do listen to such rubbish--that we are finished and democracy here is dead. Do you know he twice tried to arrange secret meetings with Hitler? This was after, I repeat, after we were at war with Germany. He seemed to think that Hitler was a man of reason and goodwill with whom he could arrange peace negotiations. We stopped it, of course." Having vented his ire at Kennedy, Churchill had given his guest a brief situation report, as he put it, on the current state of the war, ranging from Greece to North Africa. Hopkins listened, captivated by the power of the oratory but wary of the propaganda that was being directed at him. When the prime minister paused to relight his cigar, he asked quietly about the possibility of invasion. Churchill held the question up as if he had been handed a precious stone, turning it in the light to examine it from various angles. This was the question he had been waiting for. He knew that many of the American chiefs of staff had advised the president against any military assistance to Britain on the grounds that a German invasion was inevitable and that the British had little chance of preventing it. There was no question that the Germans wanted to invade, Churchill said. The invasion barges were there, across the Channel in the French ports, carefully camouflaged and heavily defended by anti-aircraft batteries but ready to embark. The armored divisions the Wehrmacht had deployed to the Balkans could be redeployed to northern France in three weeks. The head of the German navy, Admiral Dönitz, was known to be nervous, but the bombastic Göring, despite the fact that his air force had lost the Battle of Britain the previous summer, was urging Hitler on. On balance, the Germans would probably be able to cross the Channel with up to one hundred thousand men. They would incur huge losses, but they would land significant forces of infantry and light armor on the south coast. However, ten well-equipped British divisions, including heavy armor, would throw them back into the sea. The Royal Navy would complete the defeat. Naval forces would be the key, said Churchill, pacing the room, throwing out his words as if addressing the House of Commons. The air forces on both sides would fight each other to a standstill over the Channel, he said, but the British navy would be the deciding factor and would turn the sea red with Nazi blood. He stopped pacing, lifted his glass of port from the table, and turned to Hopkins. "Take a note of this, Harry," he growled. "We know it, and your people should know it too. An invasion would be a bloody defeat for the Germans." Finally, after coffee and more port, the prime minister had taken Hopkins to the Cabinet Room on the ground floor and revealed the most important information of all: maps showing the routes of the Atlantic convoys from American ports to Glasgow and Liverpool and the flight paths of the German bombers trying to intercept the convoys and bomb their destination ports. "This," the prime minister had boomed, "is where the war will be decided, not in North Africa, not along the Channel, but here on the gray seas of the Atlantic, where the lifeline of democracy is stretched to breaking point. I trust that you, your president, and the United States will help us decide the outcome of that battle." Hopkins, exhausted and more than slightly drunk, had left Downing Street at three thirty that afternoon feeling he had personally been engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the forces of darkness now occupying much of Europe. The prime minister had impressed upon him his admiration for the president and his love of America. Time and again he had spoken in terms of two great democracies standing side by side against the fascist tyranny engulfing Europe. As they shook hands, Churchill had suggested that Hopkins tour the country and see other great cities now coming under attack from the air: Liverpool, Glasgow, Southampton, and Manchester. He told Hopkins he had arranged a driver, a car, and a detective, all of whom would report to the envoy at Claridge's the next morning. Hopkins gratefully accepted the offer. In fact, he realized he would probably have agreed to anything the prime minister had suggested, just to be able to return to his hotel and stretch out for an hour on his bed. In the meantime, Churchill was going to the House of Commons to make a statement about the North African campaign. As they left, the prime minister drew the envoy aside at the door to Number 10. "I want you to stay here as long as possible. I do not want you to leave until you are fully informed of our perilous situation and the material assistance we need to win this war." Then he was gone, trailing a lingering aroma of brandy and port and raising a V sign to the cheering crowd outside. Much as Roosevelt would have been amused by details of the lunch, Hopkins knew his smile would fade when he read the last sentence of his report: "I fell asleep wondering where on earth the British prime minister found his extraordinary energy. I also reflected that he will do anything to get us into this war." * * * The bedside phone in Hopkins's hotel room rang at eight thirty the next morning. Half-asleep, and through the thick fog of another hangover, Hopkins picked it up. "Good morning, Mr. Hopkins. You may order breakfast in your room if you wish, but service in the dining room stops in half an hour--and there's a WAAF officer waiting for you in Reception." "WAAF officer?" "Women's Auxiliary Air Force, sir." "What does she want?" "She's your driver, I believe. Flight Officer Finch, sir." Copyright © 2014 by James MacManus Excerpted from Sleep in Peace Tonight: A Novel by James MacManus All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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